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Dirty words over cleanerfish fishery

the Fish Site Editor
20 April 2017, at 1:00am

A call to halt the supply of live wild-caught wrasse to the salmon aquaculture sector has been issued by the Angling Trust.

A number of wrasse species are used to remove parasitic sea lice from farmed salmon and the latest figures from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) show that 89 tonnes of wrasse species were caught in English waters in 2015 to be used as cleanerfish. According to the Angling Trust, many of these fish are being taken from the inshore waters off southwest England, where they are targeted by recreational anglers.

The Trust stated: “With no controls on how much can be caught, and very little known about the impact on wrasse stocks and the ecosystem, sea anglers are hugely concerned that wrasse stocks in English waters could be decimated by the rush to profit from this hugely valuable, yet totally unmanaged, fishery.”

The Trust now plans to write to the MMO, the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) and the Welsh Assembly to request immediate measures to stop the live capture of wild wrasse for the aquaculture market using the precautionary approach under section 153 of the Marine & Coastal Access Act until there is sufficient evidence to establish: 1) whether it is sustainable, 2) what impact the removal of wrasse has on the ecosystem, and 3) whether the removal of an important recreational asset for anglers in the South West of England to supply the Scottish aquaculture market is in line with the IFCAs’ obligation to manage sea fishery resources sustainably. In addition, the Trust is calling on the use of wild-caught cleanerfish to be included in the environmental impact assessments of any aquaculture operations.

David Mitchell, the Angling Trust’s Head of Marine, said: “Members of the public fishing recreationally for publicly-owned wrasse stocks in South West England will be appalled to learn that wrasse, once of no commercial value but a highly valuable species to those fishing recreationally, are now being targeted and transported live up to Scotland to help remove sea lice from the environmentally damaging salmon farming industry. The impact of this rapidly expanding fishery on localised wrasse stocks, and on the functioning of the ecosystem, is currently unknown. Precautionary measures must be taken to stop this emerging and unmanaged fishery from wiping out vulnerable wrasse populations before the impact and sustainability of the fishery can be established.”

What the Angling Trust failed to mention in its campaign, however, is that many salmon farming companies in Scotland have well established breeding programmes for both wrasse and lumpsuckers, in a bid to ensure that wild wrasse stocks are not impacted in the long run.

Indeed, Marine Harvest Scotland currently has the capacity to produce 1.1 million farmed wrasse (400,000 in conjunction with Scottish Sea Farms) and 700,000 lumpsuckers a year, and this should rise to 1.9 million wrasse by the end of next year, with the opening of a second, state-of-the art hatchery at Machrihanish, as they bid to phase out the use of wild-caught cleanerfish on their farms.

Equally, a number of other companies produce cleanerfish on behalf of Scottish salmon farmers. FAI Aquaculture, for example, is producing lumpsuckers for a range of producers from its facilities at Ardtoe, Aultbea and Shetland; Otter Ferry Seafish is producing 750,000 lumpsuckers and 200,000 wrasse, in conjunction with The Scottish Salmon Company; and the Native Marine Centre in Weymouth, which is already producing lumpsuckers for Marine Harvest, is currently looking to increase its capacity substantially.

According to the Angling Trust, transporting wrasse from Southwest England to Scotland “is only necessary because localised Scottish wrasse stocks have already been depleted by the demand from salmon farms”.

However, Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, refutes such allegations, telling The Fish Site: “We are not sure there is a sustainability issue for wild wrasse, however, it is our intention to commission a data analysis of the status of wild wrasse stocks to support the sustainable future use of wild wrasse.

“We believe that the vast majority of those engaged in fishing for wild wrasse in Scottish waters are going to considerable effort to ensure they are collecting sustainable components of the wrasse stock – ie young and old fish are not being taken,” he said.

“We are also working on optimum use of wrasse on farms to hopefully reduce the volume and usage of stocks going forward,” he concluded.